A tale, this week, of triumph out of disaster. Because I made a pie that was so unutterably awful, I almost photographed it for posterity, like a ‘Wanted’ poster, before burning it in the council incinerator so it could never happen again, of course.
We chefs get things wrong all the time, by the way. We just don’t let it out, because it ruins our street cred.
So here’s the tale of the disastrous pie; I was chatting with my chef Katie at the café the other week about school holidays, and she mentioned that her son was going to attend a day-course learning about this amazing new computer called Raspberry Pi. It’s a great little piece of kit, endlessly adaptable, in order for kids to learn how to program basic code and get the little thing to do all sorts of tricks and things. Very clever, and terribly educational. All very good, I thought, but already my mind had wandered. Raspberry Pi to Raspberry ... Pie! And there was my idea.
I’d never heard of a raspberry pie before. The great litany of classic fruit pies has very little to do with the raspberry – with good reason, it turns out – and so my interest was piqued.
I got working on the recipe, and knew where to head for inspiration. The US has a great tradition of fruit pies – those dreadnoughts of the roadside diner, sitting under their plastic cloches, ready to be sliced into thick wedges and shovelled onto a plate to accompany a cup of coffee or served ‘a la mode’, with a scoop of vanilla.
Cherry, blueberry, or a peach cobbler, and the classic apple pie. So it was to America that I looked for help. I knew that I couldn’t simply bake raspberries in a pie crust. They would fall too much, and create too much juice. So I happened upon a recipe that called for binding the raspberries with a little cornflour and egg, and that, I expected, would hold the fruit in some sort of light suspension as it baked.
Well, it was an absolute fiasco. The fruit all fell to bits, the egg didn’t cook, and the cornflour congealed into unappetising lumps. I nearly cried. Especially as my pastry was lovely and short, a rarity for me.
I pushed it away and realised that I needed a recipe, and fast. So, with a couple of punnets of raspberries spare I decided to use them as an accompaniment to a nice baked cheesecake.
We’ve done these before, so I wanted to use an ingredient that pairs well with raspberries and creamy things – nuts. Again, I had some spare walnuts left and they go surprisingly well with raspberries.
Most people go for almonds or hazelnuts when pairing up fruit in desserts, but I find the earthy, full flavour of a walnut is lovely as a foil to any tart fruit. So, I adapted my basic New York Baked Cheesecake recipe, and the day was saved.
The raspberries were served as a quick fridge compôte with a little fresh thyme (always lovely with rasps) and the thing worked perfectly. The walnuts colour the cheesecake mix as it cooks, turning it an appealing shade of lilac, but if it’s your first time, I’m just pointing this out so you don’t panic.
Walnuts can be used to make the most incredible colour-fast, wash-fast dye, almost jet black, and even a gentle bake can release some of this colour. It’s all perfectly harmless, and doesn’t affect the smooth, comforting flavour one bit. So forget about silly old raspberry pies, and just have a go at this instead.
Walnut Cheesecake with Raspberry Compôte
For the base:
200g Digestive biscuits
1 tablespoon unrefined golden caster sugar
100g unsalted butter, melted
A pinch of Maldon salt
For the filling:
1kg full-fat cream cheese
250g unrefined golden caster sugar
3 tbsp plain flour
2 tsp vanilla extract
The finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
3 fresh free-range eggs
2 fresh free-range egg yolks
200ml sour cream
For the compôte:
2 punnets raspberries
9” springform cake tin
First, make the compôte; take a quarter of the raspberries and pass them through a plastic sieve into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and sugar and stir until dissolved. Add the remaining raspberries, along with a few thyme leaves. Stir well, and chill until required.
Now, make the base. Line the cake tin with lightly-buttered baking parchment. Heat the oven to 150ºC / Gas 2. In the bowl of a food processor, whizz half of the walnuts until finely ground.
Add the digestives and pulse to a fine crumb, like demerara sugar.
In a medium bowl stir together the nutty crumbs, salt and sugar.
Pour in the melted butter (you may need a tad more) and mix until it is evenly moistened. Transfer the crumb mixture to the lined cake tin and press down evenly and firmly. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the surface is lightly toasted, and then cool the tin on a wire rack as you make the filling. Raise the oven temperature to 240ºC / Gas 9.
In a mixer, beat the cream cheese for a few minutes at medium speed until creamy and smooth.
Gradually add the sugar, then the sifted flour and a pinch of salt, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary.
Add the vanilla extract, the lemon zest and juice. Whisk in the eggs and yolks, one at a time, scraping the bowl to ensure it’s all smoothly incorporated.
Quickly stir in the 200ml of sour cream. The batter should be smooth and light.
Brush the sides of the tin with a little melted butter and set it on a baking sheet.
Take the remaining walnuts and scatter evenly across the base. Gently spoon in the filling and smooth the top if necessary.
Bake the cheesecake for 10 minutes then turn down the oven to 110º C / Gas ¼ and bake for a further 20-25 minutes.
Gently shake the tin – there should be a very slight wobble.
Cook for longer if you think it’s too liquid.
Turn off the oven and allow the cheesecake to settle and cool for a couple of hours with the door open.
Transfer the cheesecake to the fridge, cover with clingfilm and chill overnight.
The next day, run a knife around the sides of the tin to loosen the cheesecake, and unclip the tin.
Serve at room temperature with a big spoonful of the raspberry compôte.